Our Sales Executive Laura takes us through a full week of magnificent landscapes, mountains and waterfalls, amazing wildlife, a luxury Canadian Rockies rail tour and incredible adventure activities in Canada.
Read on for Laura’s experiences of breath-taking scenery, tranquil lakes, friendly Canadians, delicious food (especially the national dish Poutine) and incredible experiences – including the Rocky Mountaineer train!
Day 1 – Arrival and Glacier Mountaineer Lodge
Our journey began by boarding our Air Canada flight to Calgary. This was my first flight with Air Canada and they were excellent – the legroom was great, with a good selection of entertainment and a friendly crew. Time flew by (sorry!) and after a few films, lots of food and an attempt at a power nap WE HAD LANDED!
Getting through Calgary airport was a breeze and we were soon on the road to Kicking Horse Mountain Resort – our first stop! Despite the lack of sleep (I could not close my eyes for the entire 3-hour journey), the scenery was simply breath-taking. Towering snow topped mountains surrounded me, speckled with luscious green and fiery orange leaved trees. Nothing looked real!
Night came, and we soon arrived at the resort. After a fabulous dinner at Winston Lodge we went off to find our rooms.
I had the pleasure of staying in a two-bedroom condo at the Glacier Mountaineer Lodge, which was equipped with a full kitchen, living area (with a lovely warm fireplace for use during the chillier months), a laundry room, 2 double bedrooms and two bathrooms! These rooms can also be converted to a three-bedroom condo, which are perfect for groups or larger families wanting that bit of extra space.
(I must mention that the bed here was possibly the biggest and comfiest bed I have ever slept in!)
Day 2 – Yoho National Park, Cathedral Mountain Lodge, Moraine Lake Lodge and Golden
When I awoke it was still dark (thank you jet lag…), so I made a coffee (produced locally at Kicking Horse Coffee) and settled myself outside on the balcony to watch the sun rise.
The Glacier Mountaineer Lodge is a stunning property located in the Purcell Mountains with the peaks of the mighty Canadian Rockies and Selkirk Mountains visible all around you. It wasn’t until the sun came up that I was able to fully appreciate the beauty and serenity of the resort.
Take a look at the views from my balcony and bedroom window:
We started our day by heading off into Yoho National Park. The 90-minute drive was so easy and the views were spectacular.
Our first stop was Takakkaw Falls (Canada’s 2nd highest waterfall) which was very impressive! Thankfully it was a really easy walk to and from the falls so suitable for all abilities.
The setting for Cathedral Mountain Lodge is idyllic, and the lodges are phenomenal. The Lodge is perfect for a cosy romantic break for two or a peaceful family retreat.
The lodges are a stone’s throw from the Kicking Horse River and I especially loved the water side fire pit which looked perfect for roasting marshmallows over and enjoying a nice bottle of wine with friends and family.
Cathedral Mountain Lodge is the sister property to Moraine Lake Lodge so came with some great little perks for those visiting Lake Louise during our stay. Guests of the Cathedral Mountain Lodge receive complimentary passes to use the canoes at Lake Louise and during the busier months – they receive priority road access too!
After lunch at Truffle Pigs in Field (…amazing!), we made our way to Emerald Lake Lodge. I’m sure you’ll see where the name comes from. This is a busy resort and the entire walk around the lake takes around two hours. The trail is mostly flat so again, great for novice walkers.
The sparkling turquoise colour of Emerald Lake comes from powdered limestone and is most vivid in July when the snow melts from the surrounding mountains. The resort is also surrounded by wildlife – we even saw a black bear on the hills in the distance!
We made a brief stop at the Natural Bridge, where over time the Kicking Horse River has carved the rock to create a natural bridge formation and small waterfalls flow around this unique natural water feature. There are no hiking trails, but there are several view points from which to view the Bridge. This is definitely worth a visit to view Mother Nature at work!
Our afternoon ended back in Golden for a visit to the Whitetooth Brewery to sample some local ales. I can honestly say after my visit here I could easily be converted from being a wine drinker! The brewery has a superb selection of hand-crafted ales, and it is definitely worth a visit if you enjoy a tipple or two (or three…)
We finished the day with a walk around downtown Golden and headed over to the Island Restaurant where we sampled one of the local delicacies…. buffalo!
Day 3 – Mountain helicopter rides, Boo the Bear & Panorama Mountain Resort
This morning we wrapped up nice and warm and took a trip to the Bluebird Café in downtown Golden for an early breakfast before a very busy (and exciting!) day ahead. I absolutely implore anyone visiting the area to head over here and try a ‘Caramel Fog’ (an Earl Grey tea-based drink). I’m still trying to perfect making one at home!
After a delicious bite to eat it was time to head over to Alpine Helicopter tours to fly a few thousand feet into the air across the Purcell Mountains!
Words cannot describe how beautiful the views were, and photographs will never do it justice. It is truly breath-taking and something I will certainly look back on in years to come…
Once back on the ground we headed back to Kicking Horse Resort, jumped on the chair lift and headed up the mountain to meet BOO THE GRIZZLY BEAR!
We were extremely lucky as Boo was right by the fence eating his breakfast (which was just berries and not a deer…), so we had a perfect view. Boo was orphaned by a poacher when he was just 3 months old, and the refuge at Kicking Horse are doing an outstanding job of making sure he thrives in an environment as close to the wild as possible.
When Boo decided he needed a nap and headed back into his 20 acres of forest, we boarded the Gondola to the Eagle Eye Restaurant – Canada’s most elevated dining experience.
Once again, the views did not disappoint! The food here was delicious (I opted for an Alberta beef burger with candied bacon and some famous Poutine!) and was certainly a memorable dining experience.
Our next stop was the Panorama Mountain Resort. This is a year-round resort with fantastic ski runs in the winter and have a top ranked golf course, biking, hiking, horse-riding and many other activities in the warmer months!
The resort also has Canada’s largest slope side hot pools which are a great place to relax after a long day exploring. After dinner at the Cliffhanger restaurant – we headed for the hot pools to unwind and watch the wild deer wandering around the resort.
Day 4 – Waterfalls, wildlife, Invermere and Banff
This morning I wrapped up warm and headed off for a walk around the resort. The weather was beautiful and very sunny, with a slight refreshing chill to the air.
I stayed at the 1000 Peaks Lodge Condo, which has a variety of rooms to suit all group sizes and budgets. I stayed in a 2 bedroom / 2 bathroom condo, which was huge!
The condos are fully equipped with a full-size kitchen, living area and a huge balcony overlooking the mountains. If you’re looking for a place to park up the car and spend a few days relaxing, hiking, biking or skiing, you can do all of this without stepping foot out of the resort. There are also many restaurants, bars and coffee shops – so you’re spoilt for choice.
After a relaxed morning exploring the resort, it was time to get the adrenaline pumping on a waterfalls and wildlife tour!
Upon arrival at Toby Creek Adventures we were first greeted by Trigger, whose official job is ‘Head Greeter and Squirrel Chaser’.
After a very thorough and informative (but quick) safety briefing we were fitted with helmets, goggles and taken to our fleet of quad bikes.
After a practice run in our vehicles, a very experienced and friendly guide led us along the trail through lush green forests and open slopes for a spectacular view of Panorama Mountain Resort and the surrounding peaks of the Toby Creek Valley. There are many opportunities to see wildlife and to stop and take in the forest views and the flowers dotted along the trail.
Half way through the tour we parked our quad bikes and followed the guide along a short pathway to the base of the Smith Falls, where you can watch the clear, pure, snow-fed mountain stream sparkle and cascade over 100 feet down a vertical rock face.
We were so close you can feel the mist on your face and listen to the water hitting the rocks at the base of the falls – you can even try your hand a gold-panning in one of the pools beside the viewpoint. I would recommend this trip to anyone wanting to do something a little different – the vehicles are so easy to drive, very safe, the views are magical and above all its extremely fun!!
After completing our ATV tour, we headed to the town of Invermere for a walk and some well-deserved lunch.
Invermere is a beautiful, quaint and very quiet town with a varied selection of shops, bars and restaurants. It has a true community feel to it and is the perfect place to visit to escape the hustle and bustle of some of the larger, busier towns and cities. Lunch was at the station pub in Invermere. If you like local ales, freshly prepared meals and huge portion this is definitely the place for you! Be sure to try the deep-fried pickles with garlic aioli.
After lunch, it was back on the road for a visit to Radium Hot Springs. Upon arrival you’re greeted with the promise ‘The mountains shall bring peace to the people’ – this could not be more true!
The Radium Hot Springs pool is one of British Columbia’s top natural hot springs. They were founded around 1840 when locals considered the springs to be a spiritual place with healing and rejuvenating qualities. Whilst it is possibly a little more ‘modern’ and ‘developed’ that I had anticipated, it is still a great place to relax and soak your muscles in the mineral rich, warm waters after a few long days of walking!
Feeling refreshed, we made our way from Radium Hot Springs over to Banff. Our hotel for the evening was the newly rebuilt and renovated Mount Royal Hotel (unfortunately a fire had destroyed much of the top floor less than 2 years ago).
The hotel itself has around 135 tastefully renovated and spacious rooms. The rooms are bright, airy and most come with a view of either Banff Avenue or Tunnel Mountain. The highlight of this hotel for me was the rooftop hot tub and lounge – such a fabulous place to relax!
After dinner at the Elk & Oarsman (right across the street) I headed back to the hotel ready for an early start the next morning.
Day 5 – Rocky Mountaineer Day 1 and Kamloops
Today was the day I was most excited for – we were boarding the famous Rocky Mountaineer!!
Upon arrival at Banff station, we were greeted by friendly hosts, a delicious hot chocolate and a harpist playing the most beautiful music – fancy! Surrounded by excited travellers, many of whom had finally achieved a sought-after bucket list adventure – the atmosphere was wonderful.
Red carpets had been rolled out, flags were flying, and everyone had a smile on their face. I was lucky enough to travel in Gold Leaf – this consists of a bi-level carriage with a glass-dome car on the top level, offering panoramic views, and a luxury dining car below serving gourmet meals. The Gold Leaf carriage also has an exclusive outdoor viewing platform on which you can step out to enjoy some fresh mountain air and admire the rolling views.
Upon boarding the train, we were introduced to our carriage hosts and familiarised with our surroundings. The seats are comfortable, spacious and the legroom is ample – there are also controls on the arm rest to warm the seat, an extendable leg rest, a recliner option and a massage / lumbar support! I truly felt like I was travelling in luxury, and it was worth every penny.
As the train rolled out of the station, we headed down for breakfast. This is a lavish multi-course affair with warm, freshly baked breads and pastries to start, a ‘fruit creation’ and then of course your choice of main breakfast. With so many exciting views to take in, the food had to be worth giving up valuable ‘staring out of the window’ time – and it certainly was! All the food is freshly prepared and tasted fantastic – 10/10!
Now – the views. I had expected the region to be beautiful, but I can honestly say that I was not ready for the grandeur of what I witnessed. Every turn of the tracks brings you a whole new spectacle of nature. Words and photos will never do this justice – but here’s a few of each to give you a taste! Magnificent, fascinating and breath-taking.
Throughout the journey, our hosts kept us informed with information, history and stories of our travelled route – which I found to be extremely interesting. They are also very quick to shout out when there is wildlife close to the tracks – we were lucky enough to see a bear, Bald Eagles and Bighorn sheep! The hosts also ensure you’re never without a drink or gourmet snacks – you certainly do not go hungry on-board!
Soon it was time for our first day aboard the Rocky Mountaineer to come to an end. We arrived into Kamloops station in the early evening.
Kamloops is a big city with lots to do during your stop over. I stayed at the Hotel 540, which is close to the station and other amenities. I’ll be honest – Kamloops isn’t the prettiest place you’ll visit – but the people are friendly and there are some excellent restaurants to experience!
With the first day over, I lay in bed that night excited for the next day ahead. The Rocky Mountaineer was NOTHING like I had expected it to be – it was so much better – and for many different reasons.
For some reason I had assumed it would be very quiet and have a ‘high-brow’ atmosphere, and that being under the age of 30 I would feel out of place. Well, I really could not have been more wrong! The carriage is peaceful, and fairly quiet – and yes it does have a sense of elegance – but it is a lot more informal (in a good way!) and relaxed that I imagined. It was wonderful to get to know fellow travellers from all over the world as well as our hosts who made us laugh throughout the journey.
Day 6 – Rocky Mountaineer Day Two and Vancouver
We boarded the train again for the second leg of our journey! This morning we were served a refreshing welcome drink and a pre-breakfast snack (I told you, you don’t go hungry!) of a delicious freshly baked cinnamon scone. This was all enjoyed from the comfort of my heated leather seat whilst being waved away from Kamloops station by the Rocky Mountaineer team – a lovely touch!
Before boarding, I hadn’t appreciated how dramatic the change in scenery was going to be. When travelling from the quaint city of Banff, through the soaring Rocky Mountains, the scenery was lush and green. However leaving Kamloops this changed dramatically to a more rugged, dramatic almost desert like terrain.
Once again the chefs on-board absolutely spoilt us with their culinary delights and the afternoon saw the arrival of the cheese and wine trolley…absolute heaven!
Sadly – come late afternoon it was time to say goodbye to The Rocky Mountaineer. One little tip I will advise is that you will be asked to complete a survey regarding your journey, and an optional gratuities envelope is included with this to be distributed between the staff – so make sure you have some cash with you as it is very well deserved.
Arriving into Vancouver, my hotel for the evening was the Sutton Place. One word: WOW! The hotel was both contemporary yet had an old school luxury charm to it. Vancouver is famous for its billion-dollar film industry, and celebrities (such as Brad Pitt) usually stay here. Sadly, I didn’t spot any stars in the hotel bar, which apparently is a celebrity hot spot!
After a quick freshen up we headed out for our final evening in Vancouver. What a city it is! Clean, cosmopolitan and vibrant. I also felt very safe walking around at night, which in such a big, bustling city can be rare.
Day 7 – Stanley Park, Capilano Suspension Bridge, Granville Island Market and Fly-Over Experience
Sadly, my trip was coming to an end tonight. However, we had one last action-packed day ahead of us before our flight!
The first stop was a tour of The Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre. This stunning hotel is right in the heart of downtown Vancouver and every room has floor to ceiling windows, with views over the city – wow! After a wonderful breakfast we were collected by Land-Sea Adventure Tours and taken on a tour of Downtown Vancouver and across to Stanley Park.
Standing in the park it’s almost impossible to believe you are in the city! The park is around 1000 acres and is surrounded by water. There is a 9km seawall which is popular with cyclists (bikes can be easily hired in the park). Other popular stops in the park include an outdoor swimming pool, beaches, restaurants, outdoor theatre, gardens, water park, mini golf course, lakes, landmarks and carriage rides. If you’re looking for a peaceful retreat whilst visiting the city, this is it.
The Capilano Suspension Bridge was next on the agenda – and was possibly one of my favourite parts of the trip! The bridge was built in the 1800’s and is suspended 230ft in the air – spanning 450ft across the Capilano River below.
Now this isn’t something I’d recommend if you’re particularly scared of heights – but I would urge anyone visiting Vancouver to make time to visit! It’s a great place to take the kids, as once across the bridge you enter a magnificent rain forest ecosystem – which includes a fantastic tree-top adventure (this is suitable for adults too!) which takes you 110 metres from the ground and through the trees. This was entirely hand built, with no machinery by three joiners – very impressive!
We had worked up quite an appetite at this point, which was great as our next stop was Granville Island!
I could have easily spent the entire day wandering around Granville Island Market. The aromas, vibrant colours and variety of produce on offer was incredible. To ensure we saw the very best that Granville has to offer we had the help of Tracy (Vancouver Foodie Tours) to show us around.
The tour includes several food tastings from some of the most popular Granville Island eateries – including freshly baked, maple glazed donuts from Lee’s Donuts…the queue was right around the corner they’re that good!
To round off our day, we headed over to Canada Place for the ‘FlyOver Canada’ experience. A little bit about Canada Place – its located in the heart of Vancouver’s downtown waterfront, and has fabulous views all across the bay. It’s a great spot to sit and watch the cruise ships and float planes coming in, with a few shops and bars scattered around.
The FlyOver Canada experience is a sort of virtual-reality ride, where you hang suspended, feet dangling, in front of a huge spherical screen which whisks you away on an exhilarating 8-minute journey across Canada, from east to west. Special effects, including wind, mist and scents, combined with the ride’s motion to create an unforgettable experience. It’s really REALLY good!
And just like that our trip came to an end. I can honestly say that I enjoyed every single moment of this trip, and it completely surpassed my already high expectations.
The magnificent landscapes, friendly people, delicious food (especially their national dish Poutine – which is essentially chips, cheese and gravy!) and diverse cultures has certainly made Canada one of my all-time favourite destinations. With several mountain ranges, hundreds of rivers, thousands of lakes, 36 national parks, eight national park preserves, and several hundred provincial parks – there’s a lot more to explore.
If you’re thinking of going – just go. I promise you won’t regret it.
Take a look at our Canadian Rockies holidays, enquire now or give us a call on 0115 9610590 to discuss your Canadian Rockies holiday – our travel specialists are on hand to create your perfect holiday!
Laura’s tips for travelling to Canada:
• Prepare for all weathers and pack plenty of layers! The weather is ever changing, especially on the Rocky Mountaineer (we left Banff where it was 2 degrees and snowy – when arriving into Kamloops it was almost 21 degrees!!)
• Invest in some comfy shoes – you’ll do a lot of walking without realising.
• Take a good camera with you – the scenery is picturesque, you’ll want to capture it well to look back on in years to come.
• Hire bikes in Vancouver! It’s a great way to explore the city.
• Plan your days where you can – there is so much to see and do it would be a shame to miss out on anything